The following summary was compiled from several graduate employee union
contracts. The contracts cover a range of universities, from ones with
older and more established unions to those with more recent unions and
from large to small universities. Listed below are some major highlights
from these contracts. The links included below will take you to each union’s
home page. For links to the various contracts, go to our Contract
Links page or surf each individual union’s site.
1. Academic Freedom:
- At the Florida institutions represented by the Graduate
Assistants United/UFF/AFT the local has negotiated an academic freedom
provision. This section of the contract provides appropriate freedom
for teaching assistants to “give their own interpretations of instructional
materials used by them — whether self-chosen or prescribed by the teaching
unit — within the bounds of knowledge and methodologies appropriate
to the disciplinary field.” It also encourages research assistants
to “exercise creativity and sound judgment in carrying out the
theoretical, conceptual, and methodological design of the research under
the guidance of the research supervisor.”
- Many grad unions (such as the GTFF
at U of Oregon) have included language in contracts that bind universities
to providing detailed information on hiring practices and statistics
to ensure compliance with non-discrimination and/or affirmative action
- The GEO at
U of Michigan and the TAA
at U of Wisconsin (Madison) won contract language that requires
departments to post jobs in a fair and open way.
- Most union contracts have anti-discrimination clauses that often include
sexual harassment as a prohibited act. Having these in a union contract
allows individual grad employees to use the grievance procedure to fight
discrimination and they allow the union to take these issues up in meetings
with the administration.
- The GEO at
U of Michigan negotiated to create a University committee that acts
as a watchdog for affirmative action and anti-discrimination. This committee
produces yearly public reports on the status of affirmative action on
3. Grievance Procedure/Protection:
- All union contracts provide a clear, formal grievance procedure that
balances the needs and rights of graduate employees, faculty, and the
administration. They allow for a timely and fair resolution of disputes
that arise. Most specify strict time limits, end in independent third-party
arbitration, and allow the right to a representative.
- GEO’s contract at the U
of Michigan specifically bars discrimination based on union activity.
If discrimination does occur, an individual can then use the grievance
procedure to resolve the problem rather than go through unfair administrative
procedures or pursue costly legal avenues.
- Many contracts also specify ways of resolving group grievances (similar
grievances shared by more than one person).
- Many grad union contracts require the employer to keep personnel files
on employees. The employee is allowed to dispute the contents of her/his
personnel file. This protects employees from malicious administrators
or faculty. All disciplinary action and evaluations are marked in the
- Many graduate employee contracts provide for University-paid health,
vision, and dental benefits.
- GEO (at Michigan)
successfully negotiated to allow grads to choose between 8 different
plans. Most of these plans are fully paid for by the administration
(including family coverage)! Furthermore the majority of contracts allow
grads to add dependents (and domestic partners on some campuses) free
of charge, add summer coverage, and/or purchase dental and life insurance.
- U of Oregon
pays into a trust fund that finances a health insurance program for
grads. The fund is run by the union with only one non-voting member
of the administration on the fund’s Board!
- Hours are usually specified in grad union contracts in such a way
that it maintains flexibility throughout the course of the appointment
yet guards against abuse.
- The TAA contract at the U
of Wisconsin (Madison) requires departments and grad employees to
agree on work requirements and peak times prior to the start of an appointment.
- At the City University
of New York, U of
Iowa, and U
of Michigan employees have paid vacation, sick leave, family illness
leave, bereavement leave, jury duty leave, and federal holidays.
- The U of Wisconsin
(Madison) contract ensures that employees are allowed to observe
their own religious holidays even if these days are not federal holidays.
- Many grad unions have won provisions in contracts that incorporate
regular raises, cost of living increases, and require the University
to cover the cost of job related activities (ie: photocopies, books,
8. Undergrad Education/Teacher Training:
- GEO’s (Michigan)
contract “encourages” departments to have grad representation
on curriculum committees and “encourages” employees to give
feedback to the department on courses. Furthermore, the union won the
establishment of a University committee to study pedagogy and offer
recommendations to the Administration. Grads play an equal part on this
- U of Michigan’s
contract ensures paid teacher training and additional training for employees
who use English as a second language.
- U of Oregon’s
and U of Wisconsin’s
(Madison) contracts require departments to have ongoing evaluation
of (and feedback for) the graduate teachers. In addition, UW-Madison
has departments conduct their own trainings for teaching assistants.
These trainings include diversity training. In fact, in order to get
to the “experienced” pay tier a teaching assistant must participate
in an additional diversity training.
- Many grad union contracts require departments to provide suitable
places to hold office hours, a phone, and desk space to teachers, and
sufficient materials for the TA to do his/her job.
- U of Michigan’s
contract ensures that grads have a say in determining the departmental
class size limit and that each department comes up with a procedure
on allowing (or disallowing) individual undergraduate students to enroll
over the class size limit.
10. Workplace Safety:
- Many grad union contracts have workplace safety clauses. For example,
the GSEU at the State
University of New York negotiated for a workplace safety committee
that includes grads to oversee workplace safety issues. Also, the GTFF
at the U of Oregon
negotiated for paid training on equipment that poses a safety hazard
for grad employees.
Other benefits of having a union include:
- RESPECT as employees who the university can’t ignore.
- BETTER COMMUNICATION between the administration and graduate employees.
- A CAMPUS-WIDE ORGANIZATION bringing grads together from across campus
- A powerful, DEMOCRATIC VOICE in the decisions that affect grads as
vital campus employees.
- Improved environment for UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION.
- An INDEPENDENT ORGANIZATION run and supported by its members — not
the administration. You are the union!